Aug 07

Swords – Q&A with Zombie Tools

Tools benefit man, and the weapon benefits the warrior. The sword has long been the weapon of choice of warriors in various cultures across the globe. Zombie Tools is swordsmen and metalsmiths who craft bladed weaponry that will increase your odds of surviving a zombie apocalypse. The zombie may be fictitious, the bladed weapons created by Zombie Tools, and their knowledge of the sword, are very real.

Travis Blair: Swords have been a weapon of choice for warriors all over the globe for thousands of years. Why has the sword been favored over other weapons, such as the ax, spear, et cetera?

Zombie Tools: A sword is a really sharp stick, with an amazing ratio of strength to weight, made of a magical, malleable substance formed at the precise moment a sun dies and goes supernova. When compared with a wood stick or a rock, they are pretty fucking amazing tools. A huge step forward in mankind’s ability to rip itself apart. The first guys who showed up at a rock-and-stick fight with a couple swords went home with all the girls and drank all the booze.

But fact is, the sword was usually just one tool in the warrior’s arsenal. Most cultures in their pre-modern phases took a combined arms approach to combat. You had your guys with ranged weapons, your guys with polearms, maybe some guys on horses, and, yes, some badasses in armor with the really good swords. But almost everyone had a blade of some sort if there were enough to go around.

The typical game in medieval combat was for the two sides to square off in tightly packed rows of dudes with some sort of spear or pike. The movie “300” had a great depiction of this early on, with the Spartans packed into their tightly knit “phalanx” of spear and shield. The trick was to get the other side to “break ranks” and create an opening in the row of guys with long pointy things. This was done with ranged weapons, cavalry charges, or by “flanking” the line, coming at the end of the ranks from the side, where the formation was weakest.

It was when the ranks broke, and all hell was loosed, that the sword came into play. In a crowded, chaotic mess of men scrambling for their lives, the sword was nimble, fast and effective. All you needed to render another man useless was to shove the tip of a blade 3 or 4 inches into their torso, or nick an artery in the leg or arm, which is remarkably easy with a blade with anything like an edge.

Travis: Zombie Tools makes a lot of bladed weapons. With guns now available, why are people still interested in swords?

Zombie Tools: The sword was an important tool and a symbol of personal strength and security for thousands of years, only relatively recently made obsolete by the gun. And although you don’t see many swordfights on the street, the sword is still very much with us today in our ancestral memory and in our media. Every day, millions of people experience the sword in movies and games and books. With the sword remaining such a vital symbol, it’s not too surprising that a few folks still like to own them. Horses haven’t been very practical since the advent of the auto, but there are still lots of people who love and own and ride horses.

Then there’s the potential practical consideration. With apocalyptica running amok in the collective consciousness, there’s the notion that blades might once again be very useful in a worst case scenario. We certainly hope that’s not the case. But with that possibility floating out there, folks feel more secure having a backup option to more high-tech forms of defense.

Travis: What is the most crucial step in the process of making an effective blade?

Zombie Tools: The heat-treating process.

When steel comes from the mill in its native state, it is not a very useful substance for blade-making. It’s really soft and malleable. You can take a bar of it and bend it over your knee. And if you tried to put an edge on the steel, that edge will get dull very quickly.

Some molecular magic is in order, under the influence of heat. We use 5160 spring steel, which needs to be heated to just about 1500 degree to reach a near molten state when the iron and carbon molecules in the steel are in a loose, jangly state. We then plunge the hot steel into oil, which cools it very rapidly and shocks the carbon and iron into a very tight lattice. At this point, the steel is very hard. Too hard, in fact. If you smacked a sword on the floor in this state, it might shatter. So some tempering is in order. We then place the blades in an oven at just over 400 degrees, which softens the blade to the hardness useful for a sword.

Heat-treating a sword is a game of compromise. A sword needs to be hard enough to have a durable edge that won’t go dull too quickly, but also needs to be soft and flexible enough to withstand punishment. For the metal dorks in the crowd, we temper our blades to a 53-54 Rockwell, which is a scale used to measure the hardness of metal.

Travis: Which historical culture do you believe had the best edged weapons?

Zombie Tools: In terms of tightness of blade-making and bladesmanship, it’s hard to beat the medieval Japanese.

Travis: Literature, mythology, and movies have featured iconic swords. If you couldn’t brandish one of your own, which sword – real or fantasy – would you want in a zombie apocalypse?

Zombie Tools: Light saber. Duh. (With a solar-powered charger.)

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Image credit: Zombie Tools.